Civilization in the Wilderness

The Lake City National Historic District contains a medley of buildings from a time of massive growth and expansion in American history.  The young United States and its territories contained vast mineral and natural resources that fueled the unrelenting expansion of the 19th century.  Hordes of settlers, speculators, families, and entrepreneurs spread westward across the American continent during the mid-1800s, displacing native peoples and building new towns, sometimes almost overnight.  To these settlers, the arrival of the railroad, and of women and children, to these settlements meant that civilization had been established in the wilderness.

The new settlements went through cycles of growth and contraction, with some towns lasting only a few years, and others, like Lake City, surviving into the 20th and 21st centuries by adapting to a tourism-based economy.  Where the train used to symbolize growth and opportunity, the new automobiles of the 20th century meant that the surging middle class could spend its leisure time in the remote American wilderness.

In Lake City, you'll find over 200 historic buildings from these important times in the American story.  The houses, businesses, public buildings, churches, tourist cabins, and outbuildings each have a story of their own.  From the homes of laborers to the homes of successful entrepreneurs, from Hell's Acre to the county courthouse, from outhouses to an opera house, these structures represent unique aspects of our shared history.

A Brief Historic Overview
For generations before recorded history, the Tabeguache band of Utes lived in the area that is now known as southwest Colorado, and hunted and fished in the the high mountain valleys during the summers.  After the 1873 Brunot Agreement displaced the native people from the area, the Town of Lake City was incorporated in 1875 as a supply hub for prospectors, miners, and speculators who came to the San Juan Mountains in search of mineral riches.

The area was developed so quickly that within just a few years, over 500 structures had been built.  Lake City's new population peaked, along with the mining boom, around 1900.  Over the next decades, the silver and gold mines dwindled away, along with the population.

In some ways, it is amazing that so much of Lake City remains intact, with its wood plank boardwalks and fabulously preserved buildings, for you to enjoy today.  Many other western frontier towns succumbed to fires or were abandoned to the forces of nature.   However, a growing tourism trade gradually took the place of mining, and helped Lake City to survive into the 21st century. 

The widespread and easy availability of the automobile led generations of families to take vacations in Lake City.  These people purchased many of the historic homes and stores and kept them in good repair.  Today, Lake City contains over 200 historic buildings, including homesbusinesseschurchescivic buildingstourist cabins, and outbuildings.  These buildings represent significant time periods in local and American history, and offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of generations of people.

Residents and visitors who have loved and tended the buildings have kept Lake City alive for decades.  Sometimes, old things are worth keeping.  Not only are these buildings a valuable part of who we were, but of who we are today.